Cowper MP Pat Conaghan has emphatically rejected any suggestion the number of sporting grants handed out in the electorate before the election, under the controversial Community Sports Infrastructure Program, was because it was a marginal seat.
The $100 million sports grants program was set up in 2018 to ensure more Australians had access to quality sporting facilities.
The timing of the grants came in the months leading up to the 2019 election.
Last week the Auditor-General Grant Hehir delivered a scathing report into the program, raising questions about legality and bias.
Seven sporting grants were allocated in Cowper, all in the northern part of the electorate. Those were:
- Coffs Harbour City Council, $400 000
- Northern Storm Football and Sports Club, $25, 000
- Nambucca Shire Council, $178, 379
- Hockey Coffs Coast, $200,000
- Sawtell Bowling and Recreation Club, $21, 042
- Sawtell/Toormina Australian Football Club, $137, 530
- Urunga Cricket Club, $33,000
Cowper is a marginal seat, before the May 2019 election the Nationals held it by a slim margin (4.5 per cent). The neighboring electorate of Lyne, on a safer margin of 11.6 per cent, only received three sporting grants.
Cowper MP Pat Conaghan rejected any assertion sporting grants were linked to the election, and the northern part of the electorate was targeted because support for the Nationals was considered soft.
"I think it is fanciful, with an electorate the size of Cowper with 125,000 constituents, media commentators are suggesting funding seven sports projects influenced the outcome of the May 2019 election," he said.
"I believe people had bigger issues on their mind such as jobs, our regional economy and protecting retirees and the elderly.
"It has funded several great upgrades of sporting facilities across Cowper."